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Can we stop talking about passion for a minute?

It seems to be pretty standard for career books and blogs (even this one) to tell you that the secret to career success is to channel your passion and do the thing you love.

That’s crap. Well-intentioned, but in my opinion, crap.

Ok, maybe not complete crap, but unattainable for a lot of people. It takes a certain amount of luck and grit to make it in a career that matches your passion. And we have to acknowledge that being paid to do the thing you love is a privilege. It’s far more common for people to hate their job than to love it.

The idea that working in a nonprofit means you’re automatically professionally fulfilled is almost as big of a fallacy as the one that nonprofit work means you should work for monopoly money. Let’s debunk that now – you can, and may already, hate your nonprofit job.

Kristin Lynn Ryba-Tures shared her opinion that passion follows hard work. For some, that’s true. My own growing interest in donor research and fundraising data analysis has been driven by the very real need to understand who my donors are and why they give.

But what if your passion and your skills don’t match? What if that field is so tiny and so competitive that statistically, you just won’t cut it? What if there are no career opportunities that allow you to fulfill your passion? Finding a career that matches your passion is the work equivalent of the “one true love” notion, that there’s only one singular person out there with whom you would be happy to spend the rest of your days (admittedly, I am not romantic. Last week, my mom had to text me “happy anniversary” for either my spouse or me to remember).

For people in careers that match their passions: Awesome. Keep on keepin’ on.

For everyone else: It’s ok to work a job that you like but doesn’t fulfill you. It’s ok to have a job you don’t like. It’s ok to take a corporate job and give back to the community in a different way. It’s ok to work a job just to pay for a passion (i.e. traveling by burro or biking cross-country or finger-painting with your kid or your collection of antique nesting dolls or seeing shows in dive bars).

I’ve just switched jobs, from a position and organization I loved and a mission I thought was worthwhile but not totally connected to (STEM education), to a position with the right mix of my professional skills (fundraising and advocacy) and a mission I feel strongly about (reproductive rights). And yet, this is not my passion.  

Honestly, the real reason “follow your passion” grates on my nerves is I’m not entirely sure what my passion is. I’m a little jealous of people who can clearly identify the thing that fuels their work. I get jazzed by a lot of things – matching a donor with the right project or strategizing long term engagement, and also backpack camping and playing ball with my dog.  

We need to be full people outside of the contents of our work. I used to write obituaries for my college magazine, and the most interesting people were the ones who did a lot of different things and weren’t described solely by their job history. Our work can be important. Our work can make a difference in the lives of others. But don’t let the idea that your career must be your passion be the thing that keeps you from finding fulfillment and passion outside of business hours. Make your obituary long and diverse.

Disagree? Think passion is the mantra to career success? Let's hear it.


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